The Collegian
Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Reality rears its ugly head

The raging health care debate and infatuation with the struggling economy has given the Obama administration the opportunity to cleverly ensconce some of its other policy initiatives.

For example, issues concerning green energy sources took a front-row seat during the 2008 election but were moved to a simmering backburner status when the price of oil mercifully subsided during the past year.

But anyone who thinks the green movement has jumped the shark will, sooner rather than later, realize his or her belief was misplaced. Earlier this summer, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar set aside 1,000 acres of land in several western Sun Belt states for potential solar panel installations.

In general, Salazar, as well as President Obama, has voiced strong support for vastly enhancing our nation's usage of wind and solar power as alternative energy sources. Of course, as always, the problem with such ambitious desires is they tend to run head-first into reality.

Wind power currently provides around two-thirds of 1 percent of the total U.S. power supply, according to a U.S. Energy Department report last year. Salazar is hoping to raise that threshold so that wind will eventually generate 20 percent of our nation's electrical power.

Again, citing the Energy Department, such an increase would cost more than $2 trillion during the next few decades. Although our nation has become numb to the word "billion" during the first year of the Obama administration, a "trillion" still has some sticker shock value. Solar power is an even more dismal prospect, given that it's currently responsible for producing only 1/100 of 1 percent of the U.S. power grid.

Apart from the money required, a new consideration has started to creep into the picture when it comes to potential green energy sources: land. An August report by The Nature Conservancy that investigated the amount of land necessary for different energy sources has made it impossible to deny the tremendous amount of land required to make wind and solar power viable options. Citing the Conservancy's report, Sen. Lamar Alexander recently noted that increasing wind power to 20 percent of our nation's electricity "would require building about 186,000 50-story wind turbines that would cover an area the size of West Virginia."

Yeah, you read that right. Now of course many of these windmills would be placed offshore (see the fight going on about placement near Nantucket), but areas such as the Great Plains would certainly play host to a substantial number of the turbines as well.

Further compounding the problem is the necessity of transmission lines to move this energy from sparsely populated areas with high wind (such as the plains) to more densely populated areas (the coasts). In fact, the possibility of thousands of miles of transmission lines running across the country has even given some greenies wobbly knees.

Many green lobbyists have tied up the laying of such lines in court through numerous litigations as they have taken issue when the lines go through protected nature reserves or parks. In other words, they are realizing they can't have their cake and eat it too.

So what is the answer? The Obama administration has committed the same fundamental error concerning alternative energy sources from the start. It has repeatedly been unreceptive when it comes to endorsing nuclear energy. Perhaps they took a page from Al Gore's playbook, but nuclear energy remains one of the few legitimate sources of energy that can provide enough power to be cost effective. It would take 30 square miles of wind farms or six square miles of solar panels to produce one million megawatt-hours of energy per year. Nuclear power could provide the same output using only one square mile of land.

During recent years, nearly all the misnomers surrounding nuclear energy have been laid to rest. It has been proven to pose little in the way of security threats, and 95 percent of the waste can be recycled in the form of medical isotopes. I can't believe I am saying this, but the United States could actually learn a lesson from France in this case.

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The French have powered 75 percent of their country during the last 30 years with nuclear power. The most encouraging lesson from their experience is that the total amount of waste from this period is kept under one room at the La Hague reprocessing plant in France. The main problem in the United States is reducing the litigious red tape surrounding the construction of new nuclear plants to encourage investment from Wall Street.

Let's hope that the Obama administration changes its tune before we watch another cool trillion slip out the door and onto the U.S. taxpayer's balance sheet.

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